Juliet returns to Nightingale House at a rather tumultuous point in her life; she’s lost her job, her husband is having an affair, and her children each have problems of their own. When she discovers she has inherited the Horner family home she doesn’t quite understand why, but she is wary of questioning it too much, lest it be snatched away. She takes her three children and moves them to the country, into the house where she spent her childhood summers. But the house still holds secrets from her great-grandparents’ time.
Ned and Liddy moved to Nightingale House once Ned got his big break as a painter. They spent many happy years there; Ned honing his craft and painting what would become one of the most famous pieces in the world – The Garden of Lost and Found – and Liddy tending her garden and caring for their two perfect children. But Liddy has had a rough life, and just when she thinks it is finally time for her to have happiness, she suffers a shocking loss that will send her family down a path of devastation.
It takes you over, this house. She still has secrets to give up, of that I am sure.
Wow, I really loved this family saga! The alternating timelines felt perfectly paced; I never felt like I was spending too little or too much time with either set of characters. There were a few well-timed cliffhangers in particular timelines that made me desperate to read on and find out what had happened back in 1918, or in the present day. It’s not a short book by any means, clocking in at over 560 pages, but it never felt like it dragged or there was too much superfluous detail.
I really enjoyed all the characters and their subplots; I loved the will-they-won’t-they romance between Liddy’s sister Mary and Ned’s best friend Dalbeattie, which surprised me as I’m not normally one for romance. Ned was a great rendition of the erratic, slightly tortured artist, torn between artistic integrity and providing for his family. And even though Ned and Liddy’s youngest daughter, Stella, is mainly seen through her posthumous letters to her granddaughter Juliet, her character shines, planting hints of the story to come throughout the book. In the later timeline, I really felt for Juliet as she struggled to look after three children with very different needs and adjust to her new life, without a job and living in Nightingale House. I’m glad there was somewhat of an open-endedness in terms of her future romantic relationships as it stops the whole book from being tied up with a neat little bow – a style of conclusion that can feel a little boring sometimes. Her difficult relationship with Bea was done really well I felt, and I understood and connected with both Juliet and Bea’s feelings.
The story spans such a long amount of time and covers the lives of multiple characters, which can cause a reader to find it difficult to connect with the characters, but I found it completely captivating. My only qualm is that I thought it a little strange that we know so much about Liddy and Ned, and their children, and then Juliet, but nothing about Juliet’s parents. There seems to be this odd generational gap between Juliet and her grandmother Stella that doesn’t seem to get any filling in until towards the end, and even then, Juliet’s father just serves as a bridge between her and past, explaining things that had been obscured, unravelling the story. I think a further story about this generation would have started to really convolute the plot, but the few details we do get could have been more evenly spread throughout the book, rather than what felt like somewhat of a data dump at the end.
This was a surprising read for me, and I loved getting completely engrossed in the all of the Horners’s stories across the course of a century. There’s a lot of aspects of the story that I haven’t touched upon in this review, but they all come together to create a narrative that cleverly spans decades and decades and includes all sorts of domestic dramas.
Rating: 4 / 5 stars